On October 24, 1995, Norway's King Harald V (b. 1937) and Queen Sonja (b. 1937) arrive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to begin a four-day visit that will include events in Olympia, Seattle, Poulsbo, and Tacoma. That evening the royals dine with Governor Mike Lowry (b. 1939) at the governor's mansion in Olympia and the following day the king addresses a conference of business and high-tech executives at the Westin Hotel in Seattle. The royal couple's itinerary includes a tour of Ballard and the dedication of a mural in Bergen Place Park there, and a trip to Poulsbo, another Puget Sound community with a strong Norwegian presence and heritage. On the last full day of the visit Queen Sonja will be awarded an honorary degree by Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. The royal visit comes almost exactly 20 years after Harald's father, King Olav V (1903-1991), last toured the area.
An Ancient Kingdom
King Harald V bears the name of the first king of Norway, Harald Fairhair (ca. 850-932), who in the ninth century united into a single kingdom several rival realms. Since that time Norway has had more than 60 kings from several different dynasties, and was at times united with both Denmark and Sweden. The last union, with Sweden, was dissolved in 1905, and the Norwegian people subsequently chose as their first monarch of the twentieth century the former Prince Carl of Denmark (1872-1957) of the House of Glücksburg. He was one of history's few democratically elected monarchs and took the name King Haakon VII. His reign lasted for more than half a century until his death in 1957, at which time his only child assumed the throne as King Olav V.
King Haakon, who was forced into exile by the Nazis during World War II, never visited the Northwest, but Olav dropped by four times, twice as Crown Prince, in 1939 and 1942, and again in 1968 and 1975 after becoming king. Upon Olav's death in 1991, his only son, Prince Harald, was crowned King Harald V.
Queen Sonja did not come from a royal line, but rather was the daughter of Dagny (1898-1994) and Karl August (1889-1959) Haraldsen, commoners from Oslo. She earned a diploma in dressmaking and tailoring from the Oslo Vocational School and later graduated from the École Professionelle des Jeunes Filles in Lausanne, Switzerland. She and Crown Prince Harald met when they attended high school together, but it was not until 1968, after much public debate and many public denials, that Harald's father granted permission for him to marry a commoner. Despite her non-royal background, Sonja was enthusiastically embraced by the Norwegian public as a princess, and later as queen.
Nordic immigration to the Puget Sound region, primarily from Sweden and Norway, began in earnest with the arrival of the first railroads, and by 1910 Scandinavians made up the largest immigrant group in the state, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the foreign-born population. In the early years, immigrants from Sweden predominated, but by 1920 one of every 20 Seattle residents was either born in Norway or the child of Norway-born parents. Many if not most of the early arrivals had settled in Ballard, which was an independent town before being annexed by Seattle in 1907. By 1960 there were twice as many Norwegian Americans as Swedish Americans in the city, some of its leading citizens among them.
The Norwegian community was remarkably cohesive and this led to the establishment of multiple ethnic and fraternal clubs, including, in Seattle alone, the Sons of Norway, Daughters of Norway, the Norwegian Commercial Club, the Norwegian Male Chorus, and the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce. Since the late nineteenth century, the annual Seattle 17th of May Festival has celebrated "Syttende Mai," Norwegian Constitution Day, in Ballard with a huge parade that in modern times has regularly drawn more than 25,000 spectators.
Norwegian immigration was not limited to Seattle, however. The first settler from Norway to reach what would in 1853 become Washington Territory was Zakarias Martin Taftezon (1821-1901), who landed at Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in December 1850 (some sources say 1849). Several of his descendants settled in Stanwood, Snohomish County, where in 1939 Crown Prince Olav dedicated the Toftezen Memorial (the name is so spelled on the monument) to the Norwegian pioneer. Farther south, Poulsbo in Kitsap County was founded in 1883 by Jorgen Eliason (1847-1937), who hailed from Fordefjord, Norway. The town on Liberty Bay proudly calls itself "Little Norway," and in 1975 Olav, by then king, paid a visit during a four-day Puget Sound tour.
Harald's Princely Visits
The future King Harald V was no stranger to America. As a child he attended the Whitehall School in Bethesda, Maryland, during the royal family's World War II exile from their Nazi-occupied homeland, only returning to Norway in May 1945. An avid and skilled sailor, as was his father, in 1963 Harald represented Norway in the 5.5-meter-class sailing championships at Oyster Bay, New York, finishing second.
Harald visited Seattle twice as crown prince, the first beginning with his arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the evening of January 12, 1964. The primary purpose of this trip to America was to dedicate a Scandinavian Travel Commission Office in Los Angeles, but an eventful one-day, two-night visit to Seattle came first. He was greeted by a delegation from the city's Norwegian community, spent the night with a Norwegian family in Bellevue, then met with Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011) early the next day. This was followed by whirlwind visits to the Norway Center, Magnolia Bluff, Fishermen's Terminal, the Ballard Locks, Shilshole Marina, and the Norse Home, all before noon, then a World Affairs Council luncheon at the Washington Athletic Club, dinner at the Space Needle, and an entertainment program sponsored by the United Norwegian Societies at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. The next morning he left for Los Angeles, "clearly tired, but just as obviously happy" ("Prince Ends Visit ... ").
Harald competed in the sailing races at Oyster Bay again in 1965, this time emerging victorious, but did not travel to the West Coast. In October 1967 he was briefly in Seattle, driven down from Vancouver, B.C. to board a plane at Sea-Tac after an official visit to Canada. The following year, King Olav granted permission for Harald to marry Sonja, and they were wed on August 29, 1968.
King Olav V spent four days in the Puget Sound region in October 1975, and the crown prince and his wife visited the U.S. during its 1976 bicentennial celebrations but did not make it to the Northwest. Harald would not return to the area until 1995, four years after his father's death and his own ascendance to the Norwegian throne as King Harald V.
Preparing for Royalty
In modern times, visits by kings and queens from other nations have been greeted in America with unusual enthusiasm, particularly for a country founded in rebellion against the British monarchy. The month-long tour that King Harald V and Queen Sonja made to the U.S. in 1995 was no exception. Due to the region's heavy concentration of people of Norwegian heritage, this enthusiasm was particularly pronounced in the Northwest, where the couple spent four very busy days.
The 1995 visit was Harald's first official trip to America as king. It included a state visit to the White House and participation in the United Nations' 50th-anniversary celebration. The royal couple was scheduled to spend October 24 to 27 in Seattle, and preparations began almost as soon as the tour was announced in February 1995.
With months to prepare, the region filled up the royals' itinerary with ample opportunities for the general public to at least catch sight of them. Ballard was of course particularly eager, and on July 6, 1995, four artists from three nations -- America, Canada, and Norway -- were selected from a field of 14 to compete for the honor of creating a large public mural for Ballard's Bergen Place Park. The finished artwork would be dedicated by the king during the royal visit.
The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle prepared a special exhibit detailing previous trips to the state by Norwegian royalty. Tacoma's Pacific Lutheran University announced that Queen Sonja would receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters on October 26 in recognition of her work for refugees, disabled children, and the Red Cross. And, of course, no visit by Norwegian royalty to the Northwest would be complete without a stop in Poulsbo, a town at least as proud of its Scandinavian heritage as Ballard. But the king and queen's tour was not all show and celebration -- the serious purpose behind the visit was an address the king would give at a U.S.-Norway trade-and-technology conference at Seattle's Westin Hotel on October 25, attended by many of the city's business and high-tech leaders.
A King and Queen Come Calling
King Harald and Queen Sonja arrived at Sea-Tac Airport on the afternoon of October 24, 1995, and were whisked by car to Olympia for a private dinner with Governor Mike Lowry at the governor's mansion. They returned to Seattle that night and the following morning the king was introduced by Lowry to the conference attendees at the Westin Hotel. In his remarks, the governor pointed out that Washington was home to more than 335,000 residents of Norwegian heritage. The king then spoke, telling the assembled that that "his country's strong economy has created 'a favorable climate for both investments and partnerships' with American business." Lowry later described the couple as delightful people, "well-informed on world affairs" ("Norway's King, Queen Here ... ").
When the conference adjourned, the royal couple took a brief tour of Seattle, ending in Ballard for the dedication of the completed mural at Bergen Place Park. The king's father, Olav V, had dedicated the park almost exactly 20 years before. The mural, by artists Alan Wylie and Charles Svab, depicted the community's long Scandinavian heritage. A large crowd turned out in a chill drizzle to see the royals, including a small but loud group of anti-whaling protestors. In his comments, the king noted that Ballard's annual May 17 Parade honoring Norway's independence "is the largest outside Norway and larger than all but three in Norway" ("Ballard Fit for Norway's Royalty ... ").
The following day, Thursday, October 26, the king and queen made the trip to Puget Sound's other bastion of Norwegian culture, Poulsbo. It was exactly 20 years and one day after King Olav had visited. Harald and Sonja strolled down Front Street, greeted by hundreds of spectators waving Norwegian flags. Several in the crowd wore traditional Norwegian costumes in red, white, and black, and a few sported horned Viking helmets. Upon reaching the Sons of Norway Hall the royals were entertained by a program of Norwegian folk dances performed by about 100 local children, some as young as 4.
Upon returning to Seattle, King Harald held a news conference. He characterized the trade gathering at the Westin Hotel as a success and, speaking of the region's long habitation by Scandinavians, commented:
"It's interesting to note that the third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Norwegian-Americans are more interested in Norway than the second generation. I think the second generation was much more interested in being American" ("School Lauds Norway's Queen ... ").
Friday, October 27, was Queen Sonja's day. As her proud husband and hundreds of spectators looked on, she was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Pacific Lutheran University, which was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1890. In a brief acceptance speech at the Tacoma school, the queen said that the honor "forged another close tie between this part of the United States and Norway" ("School Lauds Norway's Queen ... ").
Following the PLU ceremony the royal couple headed to Washington, D.C. for an official state dinner at the White House on October 30. This brought to an end an exhausting tour that began on October 10 and lasted three full weeks, a tour that further cemented the historic close ties between Norway and the United States.